Polygamy Restrictions

JAKARTA ~ The Constitutional Court rejected this week a high-profile request to scrap restrictions on polygamy filed by a lawyer who argued that it ran counter to the teachings of Islam.

“We reject the demand of the plaintiff,” Constitutional Court chairman Jimly Asshiddiqie said, reading the verdict in a case that has grabbed headlines and stoked debate across the country.

He said polygamy was permitted under the law, but only under strict conditions.

Muhammad Isan, who filed the demand, had argued that the restrictions on polygamy effectively encouraged extramarital affairs, prostitution and divorce, and said polygamy was justified by a higher ratio of women to men.

But the court said “the arguments presented by the plaintiff do not stand.”

Asshiddiqie said polygamy had existed long before Islam came into being and religious authorities, he said, had gradually seen to it that polygamy did not lead to men tyrannizing women.

“One of the most important requirements is fairness,” he said, adding that it was the duty of the government to step in and apply regulations and laws.

Any increase in divorce, prostitution and extramarital affairs was “not merely related to whether there is polygamy or not, but also related to the socioeconomic conditions of individuals, and more importantly, the morals and ethics of the said individuals,” Asshiddiqie said.

The court also cited official data showing that men in fact accounted for around 50.2 percent of Indonesia’s population.

Isan told journalists he was disappointed in the outcome, which under Indonesian law cannot be appealed.

Islam permits up to four wives but some mostly Muslim nations such as Tunisia have banned polygamy.

Polygamy for men is permitted in Indonesia if a wife can no longer “perform her duties,” is an invalid, suffers from an incurable disease or is infertile. Approval to take another wife must also be obtained from a religious court and from the first wife. Government officials must also obtain permission from their immediate superior to engage in polygamy.

More than 90 percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim but most follow a moderate version of the faith.

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